Savonlinna marketplace is one of the iconic marketplaces in Finland. Since the 19th century it has been the hub of trade in local produce brought to town by lake steamers – when ships were often the most efficient means of transportation for lack of roads. It was easy for people from the countryside – mostly living along the shore of Lake Saimaa to bring their produce for sale because the marketplace is adjacent to the old harbor of Savonlinna. Later in the 1970s, after the revival of the Savonlinna Opera Festival, the marketplace became a place for operagoers to enjoy coffee, buy craft and design products and meet with friends. Over the years, the marketplace has declined in popularity. Its significance for the distribution of agricultural produce and fish has declined and opening hours derived from the agrarian society do not lend themselves for supporting the interests of contemporary visitors. Declining numbers of visitors have supported fewer vendors resulting in a gradual vicious circle of overall decline.

However, it was recognized by the city of Savonlinna that a lively marketplace is a remarkable asset and as a visitor attraction it is important not only for tourists but also for second homeowners. Therefore, the city consulted stakeholders and it was jointly visualized that the marketplace could and should be a lively heart of the city instead of an empty square. The project was carried out in active collaboration with local stakeholders, city technical services, and business service. Inspiration was derived from good practices presented in the Local Flavours Interreg Europe project where Savonlinna participated. Local Flavours partners had shared experiences in valorizing local products, developing city centre environment and facilitating the distribution of local products.

As a heart of the city, it should all year round gather people for new experiences: to enjoy company, arts as well as authentic local products and flavors. In the changing retail environment, the marketplace could serve as a platform for new type of pop-up points of sale for companies and through cooperation wider publicity for sales events could be achieved.

These goals could be promoted with a small-scale regional development project funding (MOKRA) administered by the Regional Council of South Savo. After securing the funding, in 2021 the project set out to develop a new concept for the marketplace, survey the expectation of potential visitors, recruiting new vendors and developing a more efficient digital platform for the management of operations.

The project has piloted with wintertime outdoor activities and events on the marketplace with some success. In summer 2022 a pilot for the new concept was carried out with a new “Market Place Oasis” where in addition to buying products, visitors could sit down to savor local food and drinks. Results of pilot actions will be summarized in a new operations manual and on the basis of the results, the concept will be developed and launched.